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REASON AWAKE: 1 CATASTROPHES MAY FAIL TO CHANGE PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE TO BIOSPHERIC DAMAGE. John Cairns, Jr. University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
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John Cairns, Jr.
University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus
Department of Biological Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, U.S.A.
1Rene Jules Dubos wrote Reason Awake in 1970, and I think that echoing his call is appropriate in 2012.
“OURS IS ALLEGEDLY A SCIENCE-BASED CULTURE. FOR DECADES, OUR BEST SCIENCE HAS SUGGESTED THAT STAYING ON OUR PRESENT GROWTH-BASED PATH TO GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT IMPLIES CATSTROPHE FOR BILLIONS OF PEOPLE AND UNDERMINES THE POSSIBILITY OF MAINTAINING A COMPLEX GLOBAL CIVILIZATION. YET THERE IS SCANT EVIDENCE THAT NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS, THE UNITED NATIONS, OR OTHER OFFICIAL INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS HAVE BEGUN SERIOUSLY TO CONTEMPLATE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR HUMANITY OF THE SCIENTISTS’ WARNINGS, LET ALONE ARTICULATE THE KIND OF POLICY RESPONSES THE SCIENCE EVOKES.”1
“THE CURRENT COEVOLUTIONARY PATHWAY OF THE HUMAN ENTERPRISE THEREFORE PUTS CIVILIZATION AT RISK – BOTH DEFECTIVE GENES AND MALICIOUS ‘MEMES’ CAN BE ‘SELECTED OUT’ BY A CHANGING PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. TO ACHIEVE SUSTAINABILITY, THE WORLD COMMUNITY MUST WRITE A NEW CULTURAL NARRATIVE THAT IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED FOR LIVING ON A FINITE PLANET, A NARRATIVE THAT OVERRIDES HUMANITY’S OUTDATED EXPANSIONIST TENDENCIES.”1
Coevolving with the Biosphere requires an understanding of and willingness to abide by the universal laws of biology, chemistry, and physics.
Only science can reveal the workings of these universal laws.
The war on science will impede investigation of the universal laws.
I am assuming that human thought processes have worsened because, in the United States, polls show increased skepticism about global climate change science.
Since the crises are interactive, the probability is that the catastrophes will not happen one at a time but rather will occur as multiple crises.
Recent catastrophes have not changed “business as usual” enough to diminish any of the global interactive crises.
HUMANKIND HAS NOT DEVELOPED ABILITIES OR MENTAL PROCESSES TO RESPOND TO OR EVEN IDENTIFY LONG-TERM PROBLEMS UNTIL RECENTLY. HUMANITY IS NOT PREPARED FOR PROBLEMS THAT ARE DISTANT IN TIME AND SPACE (E.G., FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE FOR MOST OF THE WORLD). SOCIAL EVOLUTION COULD PREPARE HUMANKIND TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY TO GLOBAL CRISES BUT HAS NOT YET DONE SO.
“. . . the ethic of individualism elevates self-fulfillment over social obligations.”6
Excessive individualism not only undermines relationship stability, but also weakens the social contract upon which civilization is based.7
One of the possible explanations for this resistance is the “When on the Titanic, you might as well go first class” viewpoint.
Another possible explanation is the failure to grasp how rapidly irreversible change can occur.
Denying scientific evidence in the absence of contrary evidence is an outright rejection of reason.
“BIOLOGIST RACHEL CARSON FIRST CALLED OUR ATTENTION TO THESE MANIFOLD DANGERS [HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS] A HALF CENTURY AGO IN HER 1962 BOOK, SILENT SPRING. IN IT, SHE POSITED THAT ‘FUTURE GENERATIONS ARE UNLIKELY TO CONDONE OUR LACK OF PRUDENT CONCERN FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE NATURAL WORLD THAT SUPPORTS ALL LIFE.’”8
“Recent studies indicate the U.S. and world could rely 100 percent on green sources within 20 years if we dedicate ourselves to that course.”9
All living species in the present Biosphere, including Homo sapiens, are products of the same evolutionary selective forces.
Humanity’s technological progress, a result of scientific research, has resulted in the illusion that the universal laws do not apply to Homo sapiens.
The consequence is an unsustainable lifestyle that, if continued, will result in catastrophes caused by resource scarcity as a result of exceeding the Biosphere’s regenerative capacity.
The cultural meme responsible for this crisis is economic growth exacerbated by population growth.
“ANY SCIENTIST VENTURING INTO THE PUBLIC REALM, NO MATTER HOW RESPECTED BY HIS OR HER PEERS, IS TREATED LIKE AN INTELLECTUAL VARMINT BY POLITICIANS, SPECIAL INTERESTS, AND ARM-CHAIR CRITICS, WHO IMMEDIATELY OPEN UP WITH A VOLLEY OF PREFABRICATED REBUTTALS AND PERSONAL ATTACKS.”10
“CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS SERIOUSLY IMPEDED THE DEVELOPMENT OF RATIONAL POLICIES TO DEAL WITH WHAT THE BEST SCIENCE TELLS US IS HAPPENING WITH OUR CLIMATE, A DISTORTION THAT MAY PROVE TO HAVE FATAL CONSEQUENCES.”11
IN THE ERA OF RAPID CLIMATE CHANGE JUST BEGINNING, HOW WILL HUMANKIND FARE WITHOUT THE EVIDENCE AND INFORMATION PROVIDED BY MODERN SCIENCE?
Acknowledgments. I am indebted to Darla Donald for transcribing the handwritten draft and for editorial assistance in preparation for publication and to Paul Ehrlich and Paula Kullberg for calling useful references to my attention.
1 Rees, W. 2010. What’s blocking sustainability? Human nature cognition and denial. Sustainability: Science and Policy 6(2):1-13.
2 Cairns, J., Jr. 2010. Threats to the Biosphere: eight interactive global crises. Journal of Cosmology 8:1906-1915.
3 Cairns, J., Jr. 2012. The ninth threat to the biosphere: human thought processes. Supercourse Legacy Lecture: National Academy of Sciences Members’ Lectures. http://www.pitt.edu/~super1/lecture/lec46811/index.htm.
4 Hansen, J., P. Kharecja, M. Sato, F. Ackerman, P. J. Hearty, O. Hoegh-Guldber, S-L Hsu, F. Krueger, C. Parmesan, S. Rahmstorf, J. Rockstrom, E. J. Rohling, J. Sachs, P. Smith, K. Steffen, L. Van Susteren, K. von Schuckmann, J. C. Zachos. 2012. Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change to Protect Young People and Nature. Cornell University Library http://arxiv.org/abs/1110.1365.
5 Dubos, R. J. 1970. Reason Awake: Science for Man. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.
6 Bartkowski, J. P. and X. Xu. 2010. Refashioning family in the Twentieth-first century: marriage and cohabitation among America’s young adults. The Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults Project. Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University of America http://www.changingsea.net/essays/Bartkowski.pdf.
7 Goodman, A. and E. Greaves. 2010. Cohabitation, marriage and relationship stability. Institute of Fiscal Studies, Briefing Note BN107. Economic & Social Research Council, UK.
8 Steingraber, S. 2011. Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crises. DaCapo Press, Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA.
9 Jacobson, M. Z. and M. A. Delucchi. 2009. A path to sustainable energy by 2030. Scientific American 301:58-65.
10Walker, R. 2012. When scientists speak, who listens? Huffington Post 8May http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-walker/when-scientists-speak-who_b_1471423.html.
11 Schwartz, S. A. 2010. The denier movements critique evolution, climate change, and nonlocal consciousness. Explore 6(3)133-138. 12Krugman, P. 2009. Betraying the planet. New York Times 28June http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/opinion/29krugman.html.13 Gale, J. and A. Narayan. 2012. Drug-defying germs from India speed post-antibiotic era. Bloomberg Markets Magazine 7May http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-07/drug-defying-germs-from-india-speed-post-antibiotic-era.html. 14 Jacobson, B. 2012. The worst yet to come? Why nuclear experts are calling Fukushima a ticking time-bomb. AlterNet 5May http://www.alternet.org/health/155283/the_worst_yet_to_come_why_nuclear_experts_are_calling_fu kushima_a_ticking_time-bomb?page=entire.15 Neale, T. 2012. Global warming: more killer heat waves? MedPage Today 23May http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/EnvironmentalHealth/32887. 16 Halper, M. 2012. Doomsday warning from IEA boss. Smart Planet 28Apr http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/doomsday-warning-from-iea-boss/15367.17 Anderson, K. and A. Bows. 2011. Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world. Transactions of the Royal Society 369(1934):20-44.18 Vidal, J. 2012. Cut world population and redistribute resources, expert urges. The Guardian 26Apr http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/26/world-population-resources-paul-ehrlich.19 Goldberg, M. 2012. Melinda Gates’ new crusade: investing billions in women’s health. The Daily Beast 7May http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/05/06/melinda-gates-new-crusade-investing-billions-in-women-s-health.html.20 Vidal, J. 2012. World needs to stabilise population and cut consumption, says Royal Society. The Guardian 25Apr http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/26/earth-population-consumption-disasters.